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How to Rekindle Your Relationship

Once the fire gets going, it doesn't take much to keep it hot.

What if this tool was your own voice? Your words? What if this was the answer to the question of how to rekindle a relationship.

Some things are so simple, it's easy to lose sight of their power. This experience happened during a psychotherapy session many years ago, but it’s still vivid in my mind.

It was my first meeting with Pam, and I had no prior knowledge of why she was seeking help. She presented as one of the most beautiful, vivacious, and engaging young women I had ever met; anyone looking at her would think she had the world by the tail. Underneath this veneer, however, she was deeply troubled, and she'd already been to numerous psychologists and psychiatrists seeking help.

She had the routine down pat. She knew that in the first session the goal is typically to gather a lot of background information, assess the situation, and formulate a plan. Quickly listing her symptoms without adding a lot of tangential detail, she played the role of the good client well.

When I asked about her family background, her composure faltered, but only slightly. She seemed determined to tell her story without showing me how deep her scars were. She unfolded for me some of the most horrific stories of abuse I’d ever heard.

All the training in the world didn't prepare me for such a moment when no words could possibly convey the depth of feeling evoked. Struggling to fight back tears, all I could say was, “I'm so sorry that happened to you.” 

What happened next was what surprised me. My simple words of sorrow, words that seem hopelessly inadequate to me, released a myriad of emotions in her. She said that in her numerous visits to mental health professionals in the past, not one of them had expressed anything remotely personal, such as “I'm sorry.”

It turned out to be a powerful session. She was able to express her anger at the doctors and therapists who while she told of her traumatic background, kept their heads down writing notes on yellow legal pads, as if she'd been talking about having a sore throat or headache. She expressed surprise that I treated her not as a patient, but a person.

This was the beginning of healing for Pam. She gradually learned to treat herself with the compassion and respect she deserved.

This session reminded me of something important: it's not the techniques that matter; rather, what's important is the genuine desire to fully be there with another person. 

Unfortunately, genuineness can be hard to come by, for it means feeling the pain of the other is if it were your own. To share this pain, you must hold steadfast to a belief in the healing and transformative power of listening.

It doesn't matter if you don't say the perfect thing – there is no perfect thing to say in most cases. Just say something from the heart, and your good intentions will shine through. Here are some examples of ways you can use your voice to soothe, simply but surely:

  • I love you
  • I miss you.
  • I can't wait to see you.
  • It looks like you had a rough day. I want to help.
  • I admire you.
  • I appreciate you.
  • I like you.
  • I think you're great.
  • I'm here for you.
  • I wish you weren’t in such pain.

If couples said these few, short sentences to each other frequently – not in a perfunctory manner, but with unquestioned feeling – much misery in relationships could be avoided.

How can such seemingly small statements improve a relationship? It’s through a process called “kindling” –- which means you can produce increasingly large effects with smaller efforts applied over time. For example, it's the tiniest twigs that start the fire, and the bigger sticks can only catch fire after the smaller ones. And once the fire it's going, if you put on the right kind of wood, it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to get it going.

Couples who enjoy a strong relationship kindle the souls of their partners and, at the same time, the spirit of their relationship. Every day these couples find ways to add freshness to the relationship. These efforts may actually be quite small and simple, but when they're on target, they produce big results. This is how it works – doing the little things, the things you know work, and that keep a relationship vital.

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I am the co-author of Dying of EmbarrassmentPainfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy ChildDying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of PeopleMy husband, Greg, and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.